Things You’re Not Allowed to do in Canada: A Photo Essay

A few years back, I read an article about an expat who lived in Greece until he became so fluent in Greek that he understood everything that was going on around him, everything that was being said.

Then he had to leave.

What he had liked about Greece (until fluency hit) was the ability to tune out the white noise. The inane conversations. The ads. The background chatter. The signs.

For me, Turkey became harder and harder to deal with, the more I knew. The better my Turkish, the more I understood my surroundings and my place in them. This was partly horrifying and partly reassuring. I liked being able to successfully order kebabs by phone at midnight or have mutually intelligible animated taxi conversations about arranged marriages in Turkish but I grew to hate overhearing (and reading about) the racist, sexist, closed minded bullshit spouted far too frequently for comfort.

In China, aside from the 140 or so characters I have managed to wedge into my long term memory, I’m functionally illiterate. Luckily, my literacy extends to menu words primarily (yes, I even know how to write the one for garlic sprouts– very useful!), along with a few very random ones for, say, rebel or cat or archer’s thimble. I’m all for practicality.

I have not reached the point where I can’t tune things out though. I’m still 2350 characters away from the basic  literacy level of your average 8 year old and Shanghainese is different enough from Mandarin so that my 3.5 half hearted years of studying Mandarin can be easily overridden.

It’s a bit like in the Peanuts cartoons when the adults talk. Waaah-wah-wah.

Coming home is different.

I understand everything here, including the subtext. And I can’t tune anything out.

None of these signs say anything I haven’t already seen or heard a million times before in a dozen or two other countries. If I was functionally literate in Mandarin, I’m certain I’d pass them on every street. The thing is, I can’t read them without effort. So I don’t.

The signs below are all from one 20 minute walk into town the other day.

I can’t help feeling that a huge reason why I’ve chosen to live in difficult places for the past two decades is so I can tune out the white noise around me.

Ladies and gents, I give you the Tour de No: the Comox Valley Edition.

Not that I was going to, but, okay.

I know when I’m not welcome

I suppose it doesn’t matter, since I don’t own a car anyway…

I don’t want to walk on your stinking land anyway. Yo.

Not that I smoke, but…


And… yeah.


My dad, with an imaginary stogie, flouting the law.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.